With only ten years left to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Regional Forum 2020 kickstarted the Decade of Action and Delivery in the UNECE region. Attracting more than 300 key stakeholders for a virtual meeting on 19 March, this year’s Regional Forum demonstrated the readiness to move ahead with the ambitious 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development despite uncertain times.
“The truth is that we have not yet seen the broad and deep transformative change that the 2030 Agenda requires. In this context, all regional fora for the SDGs take an added sense of urgency“, stressed UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed in her opening remarks, and added: “there is no denying that we have a mountain to climb over the coming decade.”
SDG trend: People are winning, environment is losing
The first SDG Progress Report presented at the Regional Forum shows some good progress and many gaps on the way to transformative change in the UNECE region. While progress has been made in areas, such as social protection coverage, more ambition is needed to meet environmental targets such as air pollution, protection of marine areas, and disaster-risk reduction strategies.
“Currently, the people side is winning and the environment side is losing”, summarized Professor Katherine Richardson this trend. As one of the authors of the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, she appeals to understand the 2030 Agenda as one framework. “It's not the individual SDGs that are interesting but actually the interactions between them.” According to Professor Richardson, the SDGs can be regarded as a vision for how to share the earth’s resources among nine to ten billion people.
Chaired by the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, Mr. Vaqif Sadiqov, this year’s Regional Forum focused on how Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) contribute to the realization of the SDGs in UNECE countries, which concrete actions can accelerate SDG progress and how economic transformation, finance and technology can contribute to realizing the SDGs. Among the presented actions were Finland’s strategy to become carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative soon after, UNECE’s “Trees in the Cities Challenge” and Denmark’s Youth Climate Advisory Council.
COVID-19 pandemic: Rationality and solidarity is needed
The preparations for the Regional Forum were racing against a continuously changing context of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Originally planned as a one- and a half day forum with 15 different sessions and a focus on peer learning, the multi-stakeholder platform was first scaled-down to a one-day meeting with physical participation limited to Geneva-based attendees. Only a few days prior to the conference, the Regional Forum was turned into an entirely virtual meeting.
The unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic was influencing the discussions of the Regional Forum. UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova emphasized “the need for solidarity, the need for multilateralism, and the need to engage together” and added that “exactly in these difficult times, we need to demonstrate that we are able to work together”. The vice president of the European Youth Council, Tina Hočevar, stressed that “we can beat this crisis and we can beat the climate crisis, but we must do so with rationality and solidarity instead of panic, suspicion and mistrust.”
The Regional Forum was preceded by a virtual Civil Society Meeting which channeled and coordinated the inputs of more than 150 civil society partners from across the region.
Alongside the formal agenda, several webinars offered further spaces for interactive exchange and online discussions. At the SDG Challenge Session, organized by the SDG Lab, representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia explored solutions to key challenges faced by their governments in delivering on the 2030 Agenda. Further webinars highlighted the importance of gender-responsive standards, reliable statistics and policy coherence.
The Regional Forum 2021 is expected to return to the format of a multi-stakeholder meeting with physical presence, allowing again for peer learning and discussion in person.
Learn more about the Regional Forum 2021: http://www.unece.org/rfsd.html.